What to do when your newspaper becomes the story? Report on yourselves. That’s what the New Jersey Jewish Standard finds itself doing in the wake of its decision to publish a gay engagement announcement, then never do it again, then figure out whether it’ll ever do it again. Which means it’s also time to hear from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Orthodox conservative who made Justin Rosen and Avi Smolen into an opportunity to marginalize Jewish queers.
In a new editorial titled “Moving forward,” the 80-year-old paper’s publisher James Janoff asks for patience as he figures out whether he’s going to cave to extremist Orthodox concerns and keep the gays out of the paper, or whether the Jewish Standard will represent all parts of the Jewish community.
We have acknowledged that we listened too closely to one group rather than taking the pulse of the entire community; and we have agreed that we acted too quickly in dealing with the “firestorm” we were told we created in the Orthodox community. Some are questioning our commitment to Judaism, others our commitment to the Jewish people. Ironically, this kind of divisiveness is precisely what we have tried to avoid for 80 years in an effort to unify the community through our pages.
To ensure fairness, we have committed to engage in discussions and to chronicle the ongoing controversy in the paper. Indeed, this edition of the paper reflects that commitment. We ask for time to address this matter properly — to do the “due diligence” we should have done from the start — and we thank you in advance for helping us conduct rational and thoughtful discussions about an issue obviously important to so many people from so many parts of our one community.
But it’s not just an introspective editorial the Standard is running. The cover story of this week’s edition is one giant discussion of the paper’s missteps and its consideration to correct them. Which is good, because it has the names of the conservative Jewish leaders who have been total punks about all this.
Looking back at what has occurred over the past several weeks, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood and first vice president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, said, “The problem emerged when the Standard underestimated the importance and sensitivity of this issue to the Orthodox community.” Goldin telephoned the Standard following publication of the wedding announcement to “alert [the newspaper] to those sensitivities.” Janoff recalled that the rabbi said he had been in touch with Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
Following several calls, the Standard printed a statement saying it would not publish such announcements in the future. Rebecca Boroson, the Standard’s editor, characterized the conversations with Goldin — in which the editors, publisher, and associate publisher took part — as “intense.” “He repeatedly told us that the paper had caused pain in the Orthodox community,” she added, “and that we had ‘crossed a red line.’”
The backlash resulting from the Standard’s about-face goes beyond the current controversy, said Goldin. “The Orthodox community is involved in an ongoing struggle to determine how to live with the tension between two fundamental principles that have to guide our approach to the gay community,” Goldin said. On one hand, the movement seeks to “respect all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation,” recognizing in particular “the personal struggles of those who belong to the gay community and want to continue identifying as committed Jews.” On the other hand, the Orthodox movement must maintain “its allegiance to Torah law, which strongly prohibits same-sex unions.”
Goldin spoke of “the overwhelming animosity and resentment displayed toward the Orthodox community and rabbinate of Bergen County in particular” in the aftermath of the announcement. “Gross misrepresentations have been accepted as fact,” he said. “The fact is that the RCBC had no official response” to the incident. “To say that the group threatened organized activity is an outright lie.” He suggested as well that the issue of homosexuality “has become the civil rights issue of the era.” “We have to recognize that each of us has issues and red lines,” he said. “I sometimes feel that because the Orthodox position is not the automatically popular position in the society in which we find ourselves — it’s easier to argue for inclusiveness than for certain limits — in a knee-jerk fashion the Orthodox are judged in a negative way without giving credence to our right to hold our positions.”
The entire piece is worth a read, for it includes interviews with a whole slew of rabbis and community leaders — including many who believe the Standard should embrace LGBT Jews by continuing to run same-sex announcements. It’s also shows that just like gays, Jews cannot and should not be lumped into a single category of people.
There are many sects among them with varying degrees of acceptance, including those who are no better than Catholic or Muslim leaders turning scripture into an excuse to perpetuate bigotry. I’m pretty sure the man upstairs has a special sort of afterlife in mind for them, whether Jews believe in hell or not.
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